My precious Grandma June died on Wednesday. She has struggled with some health problems that have made her slowly decline mentally, so in a way I have been losing her bit by bit over the last few years. Even still, my heart has broken into a million little pieces and I am predictably, yet unexpectedly, a mess.
I am supposed to be estimating the absorption rate constant of a medication right now, but I suddenly feel the need to stop work and paint this picture before I allow time to further weaken my memory of this woman who was so, so dear to me.
Grandma June took the saying, "stop and smell the roses" directly to heart. Much to the dismay of my grandfather and anyone else without the patience of Job, Grandma literally stopped mid-stride to appreciate a beautiful flower, a tree, a house, or a trinket. She was a little slower than most, but lived with a bull dog determination to keep our bellies full, our clothes ironed, and the floors clean. Even though most could lap her in a race, her elbow grease could not be matched.
Grandma could cook with the best of them. Her table was covered from end to end with delicious food, making the task of finding a spot for your plate challenging. She used more butter than Paula Deen. (She always denied it, but I once saw her put an entire stick of butter in a pot of spaghetti sauce.) Although her kitchen was full of cook books and recipe cards, she mostly cooked from memory without measuring or recipes, which I discovered when I tried to mimic her creations and had to follow her around in the kitchen, noting her steps on the back of her daily cross word puzzles.
Grandma loved shopping for and decorating her beautiful home with antiques and could always miraculously find a spot for one more thing, hoping Grandpa wouldn't notice. She also loved shopping for clothes and would spoil us beyond belief with trips to the mall. She was generous to a fault, always noticing others' needs and making sure those around her had more than enough.
Grandma had more of a cackle than a laugh, but it was one of my favorite sounds. She also didn't really know how to raise her voice without it screeching, which made her rare moments of anger hard to take seriously. She was smart and quick witted and nothing made her laugh more than April Fools Day. She could be just as ornery as she was sweet and her pranks are that of legend. She once convinced a city police officer to pretend to arrest my mom for an unpaid parking ticket in front of her entire sorority.
Grandma believed in rewarding hard work and celebrating often. She sent us a note for every holiday, a treat for our every grade card, and more often than not, cleaning days ended with ice cream. Whether it was taking piano lessons or memorizing bible verses, she constantly encouraged us to do our best. She hosted every celebration, stretching holidays out for days on end. Now that I have an idea of the work associated with having 4 extra adults and 6 extra kids at your house, I have no idea how she did it while continuing to work a full time job and keeping a smile on her face.
I enjoyed the first half of my life high in the ranks of Grandma's priorities, but went down a few notches when the great grandchildren arrived. Watching her love for them pour out of her was one of the greatest joys of my life and made me want to be a grandma more than anything else.
Grandma wore her pajamas and robe way past what would be considered a socially acceptable time. I have vivid memories of her hosing off the back patio in her silk pajamas, robe, and holy stockings. She had the strongest, most beautiful nails. She loved dipping cookies in coffee for breakfast, Fritos for lunch, and a root beer float for dessert. She appreciated when things were monographed. She always made time for a phone call. She was the luckiest card player I have ever met, often winning despite not fully understanding the rules of the game.
Grandma loved hard, but not in a sappy or flowery way. She rarely said, "I love you." She didn't have to. I knew it in the way she made me feel tethered whenever I was with her. A girl could build a sense of self and purpose in the shelter of that love, and I certainly did. I drove to her house when I needed comfort. I called her when I needed advice. Simply put, she shaped me.
What a lucky girl I was to have a grandma like her.